Friday, 8 March 2013

California Calling

February 13-20 I was in California meeting alumni of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science. It was a fabulous trip packed with engaging meetings every day. Our alumni have fascinating stories of success and failure, some of which include:
  • A computer scientist who was the Chief Technology Officer at a company that recently sold for over $1 billion.
  • A biologist who went on to develop fundamental technology that is widely deployed around the world today. For this work he has received numerous international accolades.
  • A general science graduate who reinvented himself designing consumer products. The first creation under his newly created brand name launches in a few months.
  • A computer scientist who became a highly sought after legal consultant. His job is to understand intricate computer technology and explain it in easily understood terms to the lawyers. For that, he is handsomely paid.
  • A science graduate who created a philanthropic research organization that is having global impact.
  • A mathematician who has lived the start-up company rollercoaster, winning and losing vast fortunes several times. He says his next fortune is just around the corner.
  • A chemist who made major research contributions that led to the development and commercialization of drugs to treat well-known diseases.
  • A computer scientist who has been laid off “maybe six times”, the result of joining unsuccessful startup companies. He is still waiting for his home run.
  • A physicist who, well, won the Nobel Prize.
  • A mathematician who reinvented herself several times and now is the president of a well-known organization.
  • A computer scientist who had a successful technology career, but then decided to create a company to parlay his vision of the future into a commercial product. He sold the company last year and now is a “single digit millionaire”. He is already looking forward to his next startup company.
  • Recent graduates who are starting their Silicon Valley adventure in high-tech companies such as Google and Yahoo.

All of them spoke fondly of their time at the University of Alberta. Some of their warmest memories include the collegial atmosphere at the University, their graduate supervisor, and – go figure – snowy winters. Many of them are back in Edmonton occasionally to visit family and friends. For alumni abroad who plan to visit Edmonton, please let me know – we would be delighted to give you a tour of the new Science building, the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Sciences (CCIS).

A word of warning: Although some might think that spending a week in California in February is a junket, guess again. Each day involved numerous meetings with alumni, usually separated by long drives. I found the schedule to be quite tiring, often starting with an early breakfast meeting and going to a late dinner engagement. And while the food was excellent, it was rich and not my normal fare. I gained almost five pounds and am still battling to lose it.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had read something like this when I was a graduate student! I'm glad to see that nowadays we are all more open to talk about the subject of "a PhD is for learning to think and solve problems everywhere, not only in academia"